We talk a lot about our visits to various villages here in Fiji. You've seen some photos on our photo page of villages. But here are some descriptions of a few different types of villages we've got to know.
Most are a lot larger than your first impression. You see a few homes from the water and usually one larger roofed building which is almost always in the best location on the hill, and it's the church. Once you enter the village, you see many, many more homes than you first thought – they are tucked way back, often tiered along a hillside. Some are settled more in the brush. Because we are always visiting water-sided villages, they often have at least one fiberglass open launch with a Yamaha outboard (15 to 40 horse depending on the purpose). Some villages, like Ligau here in Kia, have many boats because the village income is based on the sea – fishing in this case. The boats are tied to wooden poles (branches) stuck in the mud or they use a homemade re-bar grapple style anchor.
Once in the village, all the homes are open. The windows seldom have glass in them – though a few are the old-fashioned slatted "jealousy" windows. Breeze is critical in these tropical climates – so they do what they can to get some air through their homes. Some homes have some basic furniture – but most have very little in terms of conventional furnishings. The floors have beautifully woven mats made from the pandanus leaves. We often see women weaving together in the community rooms or in the shade and often see the pandanus drying in yards. They even have mats that they roll out for company – which we often get when we go in to do sevusevu or are invited for tea. The family gathers on the mats for all meals – they have better knees than we do! Sometimes, there are chairs, tables and sofas in the homes – but that is usually the exception. Many now have beds – though some still use the woven mats as their place to sleep. Because the homes are so open to the elements, it does make sense not to have too much "stuffed" furniture that would collect dampness, mold and critters.
Some villages have no general electricity – not on city power! There are lots of solar panels popping up and they are getting bigger and bigger and more refined with large installations. When we first visited villages, you'd simply see these little panels or flashlight/lanterns that had solar outside sitting in the sun during daytime hours. Now days, places like Kia where we are now, have just had solar panels put near each persons house on large poles connected to large batteries with 300 watt inverters. Some villages also use a village generator – this often runs for a set amount of hours each day – often only two hours each night. If a village has a major clinic or school, it often has its own generator.
Kids go to school from "kindy" to grade eight. Many villages that are large enough have their own schools and sometimes a few villages have to combine. If the villages are close enough the students walk to school or as in Kia, get school "boated" to the central village. If the villages are too far, sometimes the students are housed at the school like a boarding school from Sunday night until Friday afternoon. We were told in Navidamu that it costs $250 Fijian dollars per student per year for the housing which the government pays. They are certainly doing it on the cheap (that's about $125 US). The government pays for the schooling including transportation, meals, teachers, classrooms and some supplies. The parents must provide school uniforms and some school supplies and backpacks. The country used to charge school fees – but that has recently been eliminated with the government picking up that tab. It has put a large importance on education and the school fees made it difficult for some families to send multiple children to school. Most classes are taught in English, though Fijian is still the language you hear spoken most by the children and they are very shy about speaking English. We are pretty sure they understand more than they speak.
Church is the central part of village life and the villages pretty much shut down on Sundays and every puts on their best clothes and heads to the church. Drums often beat a countdown to the service (every fifteen minutes) to make sure nobody is late.
Sports are still favored in many villages – the kids certainly play rugby and netball. Some soccer and volleyball is also around. There are some adult teams as well, that challenge nearby villages during special events and holidays. Rugby is THE sport in Fiji thanks to the gold medalists "Fiji Seven" Rugby team from the Rio Olympics. Kids still run around and are typical of kids everywhere.
Over the few years we have noticed that some villages are changing – as is everything in the world. Fewer people are gardening now because if they have a way to make money (like fishing) they can just buy stuff. Rice is now eaten more than the root vegetables that were grown in the gardens like cassava, taro or yams. That is leading to more diabetes as well amongst the populations. Because there is more and more solar power, there are more and more televisions in the homes and satellite dishes on the roofs. When we were having tea the other day at Save's home, a group of women were sitting in front of a very large television watching Chinese soap operas – glued to the screen. More cell phones are popping up and when the teachers from Koroinosola visited the boat – they couldn't take enough "selfies."
You can't stop "progress" and everyone deserves a chance to upgrade their lifestyle. But it is still really special to get to some of these villages where community is central. People working together for the betterment of their village and their futures. We still like not seeing a television in sight and seeing people gardening together, weaving together and laughing while sitting in the shade of the large mango trees.
In some places we are still like a spaceship that has landed in their bay. People still want to come out and see the boat. There are still great and funny differences – we were showing one of our fish identification books to someone aboard and when we look at it we comment on how pretty or unusual the fish are. Our guest was commenting – "Oh that's a really tasty one. That one's good. That one is bony....etc." Food gathering is still a high priority.
We are still privileged and honored to get invited to the warmth, kindness and generosity of these villagers. Glad we are experiencing this now and not in ten years!
At 7/24/2017 7:15 PM (utc) S/V Astarte was located at 16°14.05'S 179°05.21'E
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